Help Us Inventory The Surveillance Cameras In Greater Boston

By Chris Faraone

Not long ago, at one of the innumerable media conferences I’ve attended in conceptualizing the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, the topic turned to mass surveillance, a subject over which I happen to obsess. Among dozens of other blog posts and features I have written about troubling technologies like Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs), last year I led a team at DigBoston in impugning facial recognition software that the city used in secret.

Boston Trolling,” the aforementioned series about local uses of biometrics and other newfangled incarnations of Big Brother, wound up running in four parts and being aggregated by dozens of outlets. (The New York Times recently noted our discovery, though they failed to cite us). In staying on the case for so long, we unearthed several thousand damning documents about the metastasized police state in the Commonwealth. What we haven’t been able to find yet, however, is a definitive list of surveillance devices.

Just snap a pic of any eye in the sky and post on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #BINJbrother.

But back to that journalism conference … I was complaining about the difficulty I have had obtaining a compendium of cameras, reference codes and all, when one of the other attendees said, “You’ll just have to go and count them yourself.” She was joking, and certainly no single reporter could inventory the presumably tens of thousands of prying eyes belonging to the MBTA, the Commonwealth, and the City of Boston. At the same time, she was on to something, and I think it’s this …

As my research and that of others has shown, the police apparatus tasked with operating so-called smart surveillance has routinely failed to store data safely, to stay organized, and to share everything they should with the public. That bureaucratic mess considered, we at BINJ are convinced that there is only one way to efficiently map the police state — we have to do it ourselves, together! You. Me. Everyone. We’re on Instagram all day anyway, so we might as well combine that muscle to protect the common good.

We’ll comb through the countless tweets and posts and parse all of the data, which we will use to inform critical stories. All you have to do is snap the pics and use the hashtag #BINJbrother. Thank you in advance for your assistance.